This morning we awoke to the news that Pope Benedict XVI had announced his resignation as pope effective on Feb. 28. To put this news in perspective, Pope Benedict is the first pontiff to resign since Pope Gregory XII in 1415. Pope Benedict cited health concerns as his reason for stepping down as the spiritual leader of more than 1 billion Roman Catholics worldwide. He stated that the duties of pope require “both strength of mind and body.”
The pope is considered the successor to St. Peter the Apostle, who himself was a fisherman by trade. Being the successor to St. Peter and to fill the shoes of the fisherman requires, as Pope Benedict stated, “strengths which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
The most striking realization of Pope Benedict’s words is the pure humility of his act of resignation. Arguably, one of the most powerful and important figures in our world has recognized his own physical limitations and has put his love of the Catholic Church before himself. As the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict witnessed the long suffering and debilitating end of the papacy of John Paul II. Pope Benedict has obviously reflected on this for quite some time and has come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church today needs leadership which will not be impaired by limitations imposed by the frailty of age.
Pope Benedict served the Catholic Church well. He will be remembered for bringing the church back to a ministry of teaching of the faith. His devotion to all people of the Middle East was second to none. He sought unity of all Christian traditions recognizing this as the true strength and witness of the catholic faith.
Pope Benedict will also be remembered not so much for his resignation, but for his own humility, in recognizing the demands required to adequately fill the shoes of the fisherman.